Interview with Satyendra Singh, CEO of Jharkhand Agency for Promotion of Information Technology (JAPIT) Department of Information Technology, Govt. of Jharkhand
Duration: 00:22:09; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 87.302; Saturation: 0.045; Lightness: 0.350; Volume: 0.086; Cuts per Minute: 0.090; Words per Minute: 145.054
The Identity project emerged as a result of our dissatisfaction at the nature of the debate that was emerging on the area of digital governance in India.
Over the past three years we have conducted numerous field visits in seven Indian states.These visits include numerous video-conversations, some short and others very long, with a diverse number of those who were involved with this entire process of participating in the emergence of a digital ecosystem of governance. These are interviews with people being enrolled into the Aadhaar programme, with district-level Panchayat and other officials, with numerous State government bureaucrats, with private enrollment representatives, representatives of various governmental services, with operators and other members of this digital workforce. Conversations are often long, spontaneous and deliberately unstructured: and the focus is mainly on a vérité style using amateur video.
Some key issues that we shortlisted for detailed inquiry were issues of migrants, both domestic and across international borders, homelessness in cities, and the financially excluded. Each of these areas was discussed in considerable detail at major public consultations held in Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore, in partnership with the CSDS, the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, and the Urban Research and Policy Programme Initiative of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. All videos of all presentations made at these events are also available here.
CSCS also has an extensive text archives of material on the field as a whole, available on http://eprints.cscsarchives.org
Interview with Satyendra Singh, CEO of Jharkhand Agency for Promotion of Information Technology (JAPIT) Department of Information Technology, Govt. of Jharkhand. He describes JAPIT’s responsibility for the implementation of the e-district project in Ranchi under the central NeGP plan, especially the Common Service Centres (CSC). In addition, the technology for beneficiary oriented schemes like NREGA payments, etc are discussed by him in this interview, especially the focus on Business Correspondents and Pragya Kendras and biometric identification. In this context he speaks about Aadhaar replacing their existing local databases of biometric information with the centralized database of Aadhaar, however alerting us to the challenge of connectivity.
INTERVIEWER: Could you please introduce yourself.
Speaker: I am Satyendra Singh; presently I am the Chief Executive Officer of the JAPIT. JAPIT stands for Jharkhand Agency for the Promotion of Information Technology. JAPIT is basically an executing body for all the state governments and government of India's IT related projects and any other project that has an interface with the state government.
So all the IT projects are implemented by JAPIT, and apart from that JAPIT is given a task of establishing the IT infrastructure of the state. IT infrastructure means that there are basically three components. One is the State Data Centre where all the applications will be hosted, and the second part is the State-wide Area Network. We have a network from the state that goes up to the district and to the block. We are planning to extend it to the Panchayat.
Then the third component is the Common Service Centre. In Jharkhand we call it the Pragya Kendra. These Common Service Centres are delivery points. The Jharkhand government has taken a decision to establish one common service centre at each panchayat. Every panchayat will have a Pragya Kendra and the other convergence that the government has done.
These Pragya Kendras will be established in the Panchayat Bhavans. The State government has built a two storied model Panchayat Bhavans in all of the panchayats. And one room of the Panchayat Bhavan has been given to the common service centre so that there will be an integration of the functions of the panchayat and the services being offered by the common service centre.
So this is the infrastructure that JAPIT has created, and then many applications are running which will be using these infrastructure components that have been developed. One of the projects that the state government is executing is Application Development. It is complete and we are expecting that in the month of March or the beginning of April we will go live.
This is the e-district project. What normally happens is that 80% of the public comes to the government for a kind of certificate. Be it a residential certificate, caste certificate, income certificate. They may not be concerned about the other functions of the government. They want to come for different kinds of licences like driving licence etc.
This e-district project will enable common public, villages or people residing in cities to not come to the government offices. As they are doing right now. They will have to go to the common service centre. A person from a particular village will go to a common service centre which is located at his panchayat headquarters. Which is hardly 1 or 1.5 kilometres from his village.
He will not have to come to the block or the district which is about 20-25 to 40 kilometres away as people are doing right now. That way he has to come only to the Common Service Centre, apply for the certificate and licence and that certificate or licence will be delivered electronically and digitally signed from that Common Service Centre only.
So for making an application and for getting the certificate and driving licence he need not travel beyond common service centres. So that will remove many hardships that the person is facing. And the other projects that we are doing are many government schemes that are beneficiary oriented.
Like a benefit that is given directly to the beneficiary. Like in old age pensions scheme or we are making payments to NREGA. What has happened in the beneficiary oriented scheme is that all these payments are being done in the bank accounts only. Earlier what was happening is that money was being distributed in the form of cash. There were a lot of delays and it was difficult to get to know whether the concerned person got the payment or not.
Muster rolls were being made for the rural employment schemes. Payments were done on the basis of those muster rolls. And many of the times those muster rolls were fake and it was not possible to see whether the payment shown to be made to person has actually been made to them or not.
Now what has happened is that the government has made it mandatory that all the payments will be made through bank accounts only. This way we can ensure that the money will go to the bank account of the concerned person. There are two problems with this. One is the availability of the bank in the rural areas.
Suppose bank is not available in a village then to get a payment from that account that person has to travel to the bank. The bank maybe located 20 kilometres away. So earlier he was getting cash in his village. Now he is getting the money in his bank account which is located 20 kilometres. This is creating problems for the villagers.
And the other thing that is being found is that in NREGA payments, the concerned person like the Rozgaar Sevak. They have opened accounts, they have the passbooks. But those passbooks are not with the beneficiaries. Suppose bank account has been opened for an old age pension beneficiary. Then those passbooks of old age pension beneficiaries are not with the beneficiaries.
Some middleman or some person in connivance with the lower level government functionaries are holding that passbook. And they get the signature of the concerned person on the withdrawal slip also. So the money comes to the bank account, gets withdrawn and the beneficiary does not know.
And the second part is the distance that he is supposed to travel. Suppose he wants to take the payment. So to remove these two difficulties, we are making these Pragya Kendras the Business Correspondents for the banks. So once they become the business correspondents of the bank then the actual payment can be made from the Pragya Kendra from the panchayat headquarter itself.
And these Business Correspondents have an online system where the beneficiary can go to the Pragya Kendra and he can get his account opened there and he can get the payment from his bank account and he can deposit money in his account. And this account is maintained by the bank in his data centre, and that data centre is connected online though this Pragya Kendra.
The other problem was: suppose all the passbooks and others were hoarded by a middleman then they were not getting their payments in this mode of payment. For every transaction there has to be a biometric verification. Suppose a person is coming to open an account in which Pragya Kendra is acting as a business correspondent. His fingerprints are taken in a biometric device and these fingerprints are stored in a common data centre.
Then when he comes to make payments or get payments he has to again get his verification done. The biometric device will ask for the verification. So he has to give his fingerprints, it is verified from the central data centre and only when both things match is the transaction is allowed.
So two of the difficulties have been removed by this process. One is not supposed to travel a long distance to get to a bank, and the second is that for every transaction there will be a biometric verification. So that removes the possibility of any other person doing transaction on his behalf.
In this system one of the major convergences will be with the UID. UID is basically capturing the biometrics of every individual, and then giving a unique identification number to him. At present we are collecting the biometrics separately, and then we are storing it at our data centre and we are making transactions by verification of this biometric.
Instead of having an alternative or duplicate system of storing biometrics and verification, if we integrate it with the unique identity then the biometric and unique identification card will be issued by the UID. The verification part will be done by the UID and we will do only the transaction part.
So this will completely remove the possibility of somebody else doing the transaction on behalf of an individual.
INTERVIEWER: Sir, I just want to understand the problem with the muster rolls a little better. So you’re saying that with the muster rolls other people can get on to the muster roll. What I am interested in asking you is with the UID related system if I am on it and if I have an Adhaar number I can get the money into my account. But how does that ensure de-duplication at the muster roll level.
Speaker: Suppose you go to work. Your attendance is marked on the muster roll. If you work for 4 days then 4 days will be marked on the muster roll, and on the basis of muster roll the payment you are entitled to that is calculated. If you work for 4 days then the wages of one day multiplied by 4 and this much is the amount. That is given in the muster roll. Muster roll enables you to get the payment.
On the basis of the muster roll the payment is made and it is directly credited to your account. This is the role of the muster roll. Payment has gone to the banking account and there is no problem in this link. The problem comes when you make a withdrawal from that account.
INTERVIEWER: The common argument is that at the muster roll level whether or not...If I have worked for instance for 100 days and on the muster roll I have been marked only for 80 days. This is not something that the structure can address can it? Does it work at the level of the muster roll itself?
Speaker: There are different stages of authentication. First we do the authentication at the payment level, because that is the most crucial level. The second, you are talking about the authentication at the muster roll level. Suppose we capture attendance not only on paper but with the help of a biometric device. You can capture the attendance electronically.
Suppose at the work site there is a biometric device. All the laboures who are coming they will get their attendance marked in the biometric device. It will be captured and sent to a central database server. So there no mischief can be made on the muster roll.
INTERVIEWER: Sir, but what is your own sense of infallibility of biometric authentication. Because from what we have been doing research on the UID. It is said that biometric devices cannot actually capture finger prints accurately for people doing manual labour. Because they have been working with their hands their finger prints get erased. So we were in an enrollment centre yesterday when there were some people who were having difficulties getting more than a 40% accurate reading of their fingerprints. So in those situations does the government have an imagination for fallible biometric verification?
Speaker: If you take the percentage for the number of persons who are not able to read the fingers. The percentage is very small. We were doing this project in Bokaro district, all the biometric of NREGA work was being captured. We found that the percentage at the time was very small. It was 2-3% who had problems with their fingerprints.
But in this we have a system of iris scanning also. Data of the iris scan can also be used in place of fingerprints if fingerprints are not available.
INTERVIEWER: What are the challenges involved in biometrically enabling all government schemes.
Speaker: The major challenge is that of connectivity. Because in biometric device the biometric data of that particular worker is to be stored at the data centre and when the transaction is being done and the authentication is required then there has to be a connectivity of that biometric device to that data centre.
And this biometric device will be placed in rural areas and remote areas. So connectivity has to be available for that biometric device to function. Otherwise this online authentication will not be possible. And the same is the case with the biometric capture of attendance. The biometric device has to be present at the work site level and there has to be a provision of that that biometric device to be connected to that data centre.
So connectivity is one of the major concerns, and as you must have seen, the government of India has taken a decision to connect all the gram panchayats within a period of 18 months with broadband connectivity. So if all the panchayats are connected then this problem of connectivity, this main bottleneck and hurdle is removed, then this whole system will function smoothly.
Interviewer: What are the challenges in reaching connective down to the panchayat level?
Speaker: The task is divided between the government telecom companies and the private operators. BSNL has been given a mandate from the government of India to provide connectivity to the panchayat level. Private Service providers are going there because there is commercial market, there are persons buying mobile phones.
But one of the major problems is that the density is very low. The number of subscribers that they are going to get is very low. So they are not going ahead. And then there are problems of maintaining that infrastructure. Earlier there was the problem of connectivity at the block level, now up to the block level we have good connectivity. Now we are going up to the panchayat level and then we are going up to the village level and that is taking time.
Nowadays connectivity is a basic infrastructure like roads, electricity. Communication connectivity is the third basic infrastructure. So we are moving ahead and building roads in the villages. We are providing electricity to the villages. This is the third that is coming up.
INTERVIEWER: So what are the incentives and which banks have come forward to work with the business correspondent model at the common service centre. For both banks and private telecom operators what are the financial incentives in actually going down to the panchayat level?
Speaker: From the banks perspective they want to reach the rural populace because it increases their base. But if they operate too many branches then the overheads cost of maintaining their branches will become big for them. So they have entered into an agreement with the Common Service Centres.
The Common Service Centre will do all the manning. They will have the IT infrastructure. Only the enabling software application is done by the bank. So that way the overall costs for the bank gets reduced. And the Pragya Kendra which is already there is doing IT activities. They get added business which is compensated by the banks. It is a model that benefits both.
Banks are able to operate in rural areas with lesser cost and the Pragya Kendras that were already sitting in the rural areas they are able to get some more business.
INTERVIEWER: Do banks have financial subsidies from the state to set up these?
Speaker: The state does not provide any financial subsidy. Banks provide on the basis of transactions certain financial amount to the Pragya Kendra. For every account they open, some amount is provided to them. There is some agreement between the Pragya Kendras and the bank. The banks that have come forward are the SBI, and Bank of India. And seeing these two banks at work, other banks are also coming.
INTERVIEWER: These Common Service Centres are people who are working in Pragya Kendras. Are they government employees?
Speaker: They are village level entrepreneurs. He is the person from the village itself who has been given training in handling the IT infrastructure and he is able to operate computers and do basic computing. And he is given training on basic software and applications. And for every added activity he is provided specialised training.
When he is made the business correspondent for the bank then the bank and the person who is looking after the common service centre, they provide specialised training on how to operate these things. So that they get the training.
INTERVIEWER: So the government provides the training?
INTERVIEWER: So the Common Service Centres is under the jurisdiction of the state is it?
Speaker: Yes the state government is supporting these Common Service Centres.
INTERVIEWER: And their financial model. Is there a minimum subsidy that the Common Service Centre operator gets?
Speaker: Common Service Centre operates on such a model like government gives a minimum offset. But if government services are offered by the government the government reduces that offset. Because that government service centre is earning out of this government service. So that much offset is deducted from the minimum guaranteed mode.
INTERVIEWER: So when the villager approaches the Common Service Centre for say a caste certificate. The villager will pay the common service centre a certain amount?
Speaker: Yes, a minimum fee is prescribed by the government that is to be paid by the villager. And on his part he has to maintain the IT Infrastructure, to arrange for the power, and he has to arrange for the connectivity.
INTERVIEWER: We have read in the newspapers that Jharkhand is interesting in integrating the UID with the PDS and the Mid-day meals scheme. In terms of converting the PDS structure into a UID enabled structure what are the challenges that you have experienced in Jharkhand.
Speaker: As far as PDS is concerned we are in the initial stages like we are developing applications and are thinking how to go ahead. So we have not done much in the field so I cannot comment on that
With the Mid-day meal scheme it’s the same thing that I had told you, that to get proper authentication that the actual beneficiary is getting the benefit as I was telling you about NREGA. That the biometric device will be established at the panchayat level for the authentication during payment. And at the work site for the authentication for attendance. Same is the case with the mid-day meals in schools.
So, in every primary school and middle school there will be biometric device and all the students who are getting the mid day meal they will make attendance biometrically connected to the UID and that way instantaneous accounting will be done and whatever amount is released to a particular school and whatever rice is allocated to a particular school that will be based on this data that is collected.
INTERVIEWER:Sir, as the CEO is the JAPIT, are there any other biometric schemes. Are there any other identification/authentication schemes that the government is implementing in Jharkhand? Like attendance of government officers in departments. Has that become biometric enabled in Jharkhand?
Speaker: That has not been done. Our focus is mainly to get the all the government oriented beneficiary schemes. Because a lot of funds are required and the government is concerned whether the right beneficiaries get the benefits. So we are focusing on that.
INTERVIEWER: At the moment it is basically the e-distinct project and the 6 services that they said they are tying up with Aadhaar.
Speaker: E-district project is one part and the other part is mainly flagship government schemes like NREGA payment and old age pension payment, mid-day meal scheme, scholarship under welfare department so in which the money is directly given to the beneficiary. So integrating that thing into UID so that the actual beneficiary gets the benefit and the government has the real data. Who is getting and how much is he getting.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you so much.